OUR PROCESS

We reviewed dozens of interview guides and synthesized them with the expertise of Maja Bro Gregerson, Co-founder and CEO of Talentree, based in Copenhagen.

IF YOU REMEMBER NOTHING ELSE

  1. Behavioral questions are a proven prescriptive method to accurately determine the likelihood of a candidate’s future success.
  2. Always create a job analysis to know what skills you’re looking for and subsequently which behavioral questions to ask.
  3. Use the STAR model to get the candidate to provide detailed, in-depth answers.
  4. Make sure to ask candidates the same set of questions in order to assess their performance equitably.
  5. Use our Response Grading template for calibrating your scores.

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There are 7 specific behavioral traits that are possibly analyzed during a behavioral interview with a candidate. Below is a table listing them alongside a sample question asking about that specific behavioral trait.

Candidate Quality

Sample Question

Teamwork Skills/Abilities

What role do you most often play in team situations? Can you provide a good example of this?

Leadership Skills/Abilities

How do you prefer to build rapport with others?

Communication Style

Can you in 5 minutes or less describe a complex professional problem, you have in-depth working experience with, in a way so I, an outsider, will understand?

Conflict Resolution Skills/Abilities

What are three examples of the kinds of behaviors, actions, or attitudes you are most likely to conflict with? Can you give me an example of a situation you addressed in the past? How was it resolved?

Creative Thinking

When and how have you taken an existing process and used your own creativity to make it better?

Problem Solving

We are struggling with problem X (something close to real life from your company). How do you think about it and how have you solved a similar problem in the past?

Grit/Determination

When you’ve been on extended projects, how do you maintain focus?

Don’t ask behavioral questions with the purpose of assessing the candidate’s past performance but instead to determine their future potential.

Before even considering which questions to ask, always conduct a thorough job analysis. The analysis is created in a joint effort between HR, the hiring manager, and potentially a peer in a similar role. You start out by looking at the existing processes in your department and analyse which contributions the new hire will deliver on a high level and exactly where this role fits in. This will show which tasks, responsibilities and outcomes of the given role are important. (They should then be described thoroughly in a job analysis template.)

Once the necessary skills to be successful in the role are identified through job analysis, you then need to determine which behaviors will be most important to the skills that have been identified as important to the role. It’s often a good idea to consider both must-have skills and nice-to-have skills. (These findings will also be listed in the job analysis template.) This exercise ensures critical internal alignment in the organization towards what kind of candidate is the preferred future hire. The alignment is secured by having everyone involved in the process from the business and from HR to sign off on the job analysis. Once the job analysis and alignment are in place, it will be clear what skills to test and which questions to ask.

  • Don’t ask candidates close-ended yes or no questions. They are of no use in an interview as candidates will know exactly what the right answer is. You will get nothing but a canned answer based on a close-ended question, hence learning very little about the candidate.
  • Don’t ask candidates about their weaknesses. Candidates when asked about their weaknesses will most likely give a false negative answer, e.g. “I’m a perfectionist” or “I have a tendency to work too hard.” Asking this question makes it almost impossible for candidates to give an answer that isn’t cliché.
  • Don’t ask candidates about their strengths. Asking a candidate about their strengths has become so commonplace that you will not receive any unique and insightful answers.

There’s a really simple, but immensely crucial, prerequisite to avoid bias in your interviews: make sure that you ask everyone the same set of questions. List all mandatory questions to be asked to all candidates in a sheet and provide each candidate’s answer with a rating. It's recommended to use the Behavioral Response Grading Template to make this process efficacious. Only this way will you be able to fairly assess and compare the candidates against each other.

Should the candidate have a difficult time structuring their reply or giving detailed and vivid answers to your questions, the STAR method can be applied as an interview-technique for the interviewer. It’s a very effective way to formulate questions to ensure complete and concise answers from a candidate.

STAR is an acronym for situation, task, action and result.

  • Situation: The situation addresses the who, what, where, when and how (i.e, the context).
  • Task: Once the context has been established, the task needs explanation. Get the candidate to highlight the challenges and constraints and what needed to be accomplished.
  • Action: Now get the candidate to describe the specific actions they took to complete the task. It’s important that the traits and skills enabling the accomplishment of the task are highlighted.
  • Result: Finally, the candidate should talk about the results they achieved. What was the learning? Ideally, have the candidate support his answers with data to support their discussion of outcomes.

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. What role do you most often play in team situations? Can you provide a good example of this?
  2. How do you handle if a team member doesn’t live up to their responsibilities?
  3. Tell me about one of your favorite experiences working with a team and your contribution to the success?

Tip: Consider if a group interview/case study can further assess the candidate’s teamwork skills.

What you’re looking for

  • Pay attention to how the candidate describes the input they received from colleagues and how comfortable they are with giving feedback. You are looking for someone who appreciates honesty and can handle open conversations.
  • Team players will speak highly of the team’s contributions while placing emphasis on the team’s dynamic. (Track how many times they use the pronouns “We” and “Us” as well as possessive pronouns like “Our”).
  • Look for sincere enthusiasm when talking about collaboration with other people (e.g., the candidate speaks in an upbeat and positive manner, sits up straight, and makes eye-contact while explaining their experience with teamwork).
  • When providing examples of previous teamwork, is the candidate able to draw parallels to the working environment of your company?
  • Type and style of teamwork are very different in a small startup than in a corporate and you need someone who understands what kind of teamwork they are expected to take part in.

What to watch out for

  • Watch out for excessive finger pointing and/or blame placing.
  • Watch out for people who take too much credit for team success as they have a tendency to be too self-centred. (Track how many times the candidate uses first-person pronouns “I” and “me” in their responses).
  • Be careful with candidates who solely paint a rosy picture of their previous experience with teamwork. Teamwork is not always easy and whoever believes it to be so will either be lacking social awareness or hiding the truth.

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. What strategies do you use to motivate your team?
  2. How do you prefer to build rapport with others?
  3. If I asked your peers to comment on your leadership style, how would they respond?
  4. What would this discussion with your peers tell me about you as a leader?

What you’re looking for

  • Pay attention to whether the candidate comes across as empathetic while at the same time confident in their answers. Look for someone who, in their reply, generally understands and empathizes with other people’s point of view.
  • Is the candidate passionate about people and genuinely interested in making a difference while also being aware of when it’s time to get tough? You want to find someone who can master that balance.
  • Is the candidate able to set a direction and stick to it, both for themselves and for their team?
  • Does the candidate demonstrate the ability to motivate both the high-performers, but also the under-performers?
  • Look for adaptability. Has the candidate able to adapt to many different situations and many different people in the past?
  • Look for answers that indicate self-awareness: pay attention to whether the candidate has developed strategies to build relationships.

What to watch out for

  • Watch out for signs of arrogance: does the candidate exhibit any signs of being controlling? Is the candidate self-reflective? Relatedly, look for answers that come across as too judgmental.
  • Look out for a candidate who’s too emotional in their replies: this can become problematic when having to lead. Notice if the candidate’s actions seemed unpredictable or impulsive in the situation they are referring to in their answer. Inconsistency in answers can also be an indicator of an overly emotional candidate.
  • Look out for negativity. A candidate who focuses on the negative will struggle to motivate a team. (You will notice a frequency of negative adverbs like “No,” “Not,” “Hardly [ever],” “Never.”)

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. Can you in 5 minutes or less describe a complex professional problem, you have in-depth working experience with, in a way so I, an outsider, will understand?
  2. Tell me about a time when you were communicating with someone and they did not understand you. What did you do?
  3. Imagine that I’m a peer who delivered a bad hand-over to you on a critical task. What would you tell me? And how? Get them to deliver the message as if you were the peer.

What to look for

  • Look for assertiveness: does the candidate articulate clear and concise are the answers? Is the candidate articulate: do words come easy to them, especially when having to convey a difficult message? (e.g., when having to let someone go, disagreeing with a manager, or telling a peer that there are significant flaws in their work.)
  • Is the candidate friendly and approachable? Notice their body-language: is it open and relaxed; is there eye contact? Is the candidate polite, not only when addressing you but also when they arrive and interact with people extraneous to the interview (e.g., the receptionist)? Does the candidate smile?
  • Since communication always requires more than 1 person, pay attention to whether the candidate is a good listener (e.g., do they actually answer the questions you asked?)
  • Consider the nonverbal communication of the candidate. You’re looking for someone with an open and relaxed body language (e.g., their arms on not crossed, their hands are not clenched).

What to watch out for

Maja Bro Gregerson: “When you ask them to introduce themselves, you don't want a reply that's longer than 1-2 minutes. For other questions, this will likely be too short. I prefer that the candidate doesn’t speak for more than 5 minutes in their reply to questions, but that's more because they then tend to get lost in their explanation.”

  • If the candidate is not able to break something complex down into bite-sized, easy components, that’s a bad sign.
  • Look out for too short or too long answers. A candidate with good communication skills will be able to find the right balance between getting their point across while not wasting time on unnecessary details and lengthy explanations.
  • Watch out for a candidate’s tendency to place the blame for not understanding their communication with the recipient of the message (e.g. if a manager tells you that his team has a hard time understanding what to deliver and when, then he’s placing the blame with his team instead of acknowledging his own communication flaws). A good communicator knows that it’s their responsibility to get a message across in such a way that the recipient understands.
  • Does the candidate display uncomfortable body language (e.g., an inability to maintain eye contact, fiddling hands, are they fidgety)?

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. What are three examples of the kinds of behaviors, actions, or attitudes you are most likely to conflict with? Can you give me an example of a situation you addressed in the past? How was it resolved?
  2. Think of a time when you worked with a peer who would seem to agree with the direction decided by a group. But, for weeks later the person continued to raise objections to the decisions. How did you address this with this peer? If not, what was your reason for deciding not to confront the ongoing problem?
  3. How have you reacted in the past if a coworker blamed you for something that wasn’t entirely your fault (eg. missing a deadline) during a meeting?

What to look for

  • First, determine whether the candidate is able to articulate the conflicting interests that led to the difficult situation that they are basing their answer upon. You should also notice if the candidate is able to value the opinion of others.
  • Second, pay attention to how effectively the candidate handled the conflict. Were they able to keep their emotions under control during the conflict and remain calm as they tell you about it?
  • Is the candidate willing to participate in a conflict? And when they do, is it in a constructive and appropriate manner aligning to your company culture?

What to watch out for

  • If the candidate avoids necessary conflict entirely, they will likely have a difficult time being a part of a team.
  • Watch out for a candidate who comes across as too aggressive in their conflict handling. It is more than acceptable if the candidate acknowledges the difficulties in conflicts and expresses a desire to see them resolved both for expedience and on principle.
  • Pay attention to stubbornness. Try to challenge one of the answers of the candidate, not aggressively, but politely, and watch how the candidate responds to this. Is the candidate able to accommodate your point of view or do they stick to their own view, dismissing yours entirely and possibly becoming condescending?

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. When and how have you taken an existing process and used your own creativity to make it better?
  2. What does innovation mean to you in your current job?
  3. Describe a time when you had to think “outside the box” and how did you go about it?

Tip: Ask a left brain-side question/mind puzzle, e.g. “How would you describe the color yellow to me if I was blind?” to test their creative thinking skills on the spot.

What to look for

  • Always pay attention to the uniqueness of the approach that the candidate has applied in the given answers. Is the candidate able to think in novel ways and not just follow the procedures of their field of work? Does the candidate’s application of creativity lead to a positive outcome?
  • Does the candidate encourage their peers to be creative?

What to watch out for

  • Be careful when a candidate’s answers are not original: you don’t want to hear too simple or too generic answers (e.g., if answering your question about what innovation means for the candidate in their job, you don’t want to hear an answer like: “It means that I can apply creativity in my work processes.”) You want the candidate to vividly explain to you how innovation means that they are able to provide a better service to customers (i.e, if a customer service profile). A unique answer might begin with, “Innovation in my job means that I get to make mistakes in the right direction.”
  • Pay attention to the candidate who has no structure in their answer (e.g., their answers will take longer than necessary). Is the candidate able to answer the questions at all? This is naturally the strongest sign of a lack of creative thinking skills.

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. We are struggling with problem X (something close to real life from your company). How do you think about it and how have you solved a similar problem in the past?
  2. At times you may have to do many things at once. Tell me how you normally decide what is most important and why?
  3. Tell me about a time where you have been caught off-guard by a problem that you had not foreseen? What happened?

Tip: Ask a tricky brain-teaser question, e.g. “How many potatoes (in lbs.) does McDonald’s sell in a year in the UK?” to test their problem solving skills on the spot.

What to look for

  • Pay attention to the candidate’s ability to resonate and explain the logic behind their thought process. The candidate should be able to demonstrate a structure for their thought process (e.g., they are able to explain issues and processes step by step). This should roughly follow this path: identifying the problem, analyzing it, coming up with different solutions, and prioritizing these to find the best fit.
  • Notice the candidate’s attitude. Do they display a can-do attitude when faced with a challenging question or describing a difficult situation? This indicates that the candidate performs well under pressure. Is the candidate able to confront a problem from both an abstract and a concrete point of view?

What to watch out for

  • Watch out for messy answers with no structure as this indicates that the candidate has difficulties keeping the overview in challenging situations. A messy answer is relatively easy to spot: it’s often too long, it’s not chronological, there’s no flow and the important conclusions are left unaddressed or lacking.
  • Pay attention to the level of confusion that the candidate displays (e.g., do they falter mid-sentence, repeat themselves, fail to remember names, dates, chronology, etc.?)
  • Does the candidate focus too heavily on the problem and not the solution. A candidate who focuses too much on the problem will likely hold a significantly negative view and exhibit the tendency to passively dwell upon the problem instead of actively trying to solve it.
  • It’s normal for the candidate to feel slightly uncomfortable when put on the spot with difficult questions. Just like when assessing creative thinking skills, if candidates are so stressed they can’t answer your problem-solving questions this indicates they cannot handle stressful situations well.

Use the STAR model to get the candidate to become specific in their answers to these questions:

  1. When you’ve been on extended projects, how do you maintain focus?
  2. When was a time you faced a challenge and overcame a setback? What happened?
  3. What goals have you recently set? How are they going?

What to look for

  • Look for a candidate using strong mechanisms for handling stressful situations (e.g., the candidate is able to analyze the situation objectively; the candidate can openly communicate with other people involved; they are aware of unhealthy ways of reacting to stressful situations. Does the candidate practice taking care of their mind and body as a way of coping with these situations at work?
  • Assess if a candidate is facing problems head-on and judge their tenacity. You want a candidate who stays focused and engaged until the end of a project.
  • A good candidate recognizes their own shortcomings but is also able to explain how they overcome these. Does the candidate seek out new opportunities for growth and develop plans to optimize their performance?
  • If the candidate spends time on additional activities/hobbies outside work, this is usually a positive sign: a person who devotes their time and energy perfecting unrelated but perhaps complementary skill sets is balanced and multidimensional.

What to watch out for

  • Does the candidate seem to become stressed easily (e.g., during the interview, does the candidate have trouble sitting still? Do they sweat profusely. Are they biting their fingernails? Do they fix their hair constantly?)
  • Does the candidate talk poorly about other people involved in challenging situations? Does the candidate seem to hold a grudge or remain emotionally attached to the difficult situation?
  • Look out for a lack of self-confidence (e.g, during the interview, does the candidate look at the floor instead of your eyes? Do they speak inaudibly?)
Almanac Template | Behavioral Interview Response Grading